MS M.917/945, pp. 258–259

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Evisceration of St. Erasmus

The Netherlands, Utrecht
ca. 1440
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm)

Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963

MS M.917/945, pp. 258–259

Erasmus (also known as St. Elmo) was an Italian bishop during Diocletian's persecution of the Christians around the turn of the fouth century. He lies on a raised board, clothed only in his miter and a loincloth. His arms are bound painfully beneath the board while two executioners wind his intestines around a spool turned by spoked wheels. At right, the bald executioner in crimson has a long curved knife at his belt – probably the blade used to slit the belly of the saint. In the border, and of unknown significance, is a boy riding a hobbyhorse and wearing a conical hat made of tied green sticks and a collar of similar material made into long spikes.


Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. While the Virgin became, as the Mother of God, almost a goddess herself, saints retained more of their humanity and thus their approachability.


Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern